Modernism gone wild: A year researching and teaching at King’s College London

In my final month at King’s College London, I made a literary pilgrimage to Monk’s House in Rodmell, where the modernist couple Virginia and Leonard Woolf stayed. The walk from the train station took me past the River Ouse, where Virginia ended her life in 1941, faced with mental health issues exacerbated by the impending World War. I saw the quaint little cottage, the outdoor shed where Woolf wrote some of her famous novels, and the beautiful gardens previously tended to by her husband. I then walked in her footsteps to her sister Vanessa Bell’s place, Charleston Farmhouse. Bell was a notable modernist painter, and her farmhouse hosted many other famous intellectuals from the Bloomsbury Group, including the economist John Maynard Keynes and the artists Duncan Grant and Roger Fry.

The River Ouse enroute to Monk’s House
Hiking from Monk’s House to Charleston Farmhouse

 

 

 

 

 

 

Virginia must have been a strong walker, despite what I have read about her frail mental state. It was an eight-mile hike up and across the sprawling South Downs, past herds of curious sheep and huge twitchy cows, down a steep and rocky trail (which took some finding), and across wheat fields guarded by a historic gamekeeper’s tower. I almost didn’t make it to Charleston in time for the final tour of the day. With fifteen minutes to spare, I ran the last 600 metres, hopped a gate (or stumbled over it, really), went to the bathroom, and emerged sweating and panting into the reception area. I wondered if Woolf ever presented herself in such an undignified manner. It was all worth it for Charleston’s gorgeously quirky interiors (painted and designed largely by Bell, Grant, and Fry), which formed the backdrop to the rich history of the Bloomsbury Group as narrated by our erudite guide.

This experience was one of the many ways in which literary modernism — one of my research focuses — came alive for me during my year at King’s. London was and is one major nexus of literary modernism, particularly Bloomsbury modernism. I connected with the British Association of Modernist Studies, which hosted multiple seminars, a Postgraduate Networking Day, and their annual conference. Beyond academia, I experienced how modernism continues to be rejuvenated for a larger public, ranging from the West End play The Inheritance, to the London premiere of Vita and Virginia, to the exhibition Modern Couples: Art, Intimacy, and the Avant-garde, jointly held by the Centre Pompidou-Metz and the Barbican Centre.

Discovering rarer books at London’s British Library

Such contemporary takes on modernism made me reflect on the relevance of Euro-American modernism to Asian contexts today, and how they compare with modern literature produced in Asia. I pursued this interest with guidance from my King’s supervisor Dr. Sebastian Matzner, who worked with me intensively to refine my research focus, and who pushed me to think and write with more clarity and humility. I audited a module taught by Dr. John Connor, which resonated with my interests in modernism, realism, and the Cold War. London’s British Library offered access to rarer books and resources, which led me to Nieh Hualing’s mid-century works, including her compilation of an anthology of short stories written by modern Chinese women. I also learnt to present my research to diverse audiences, through conference presentations and reading groups, and immersed myself in the vibrant community of fellow postgraduate researchers and faculty members at King’s and beyond.

One of my most formative experiences was teaching at King’s. I was responsible for a class of 20 students for the year-one module Genres in World Literature. Teaching this module strengthened my understanding of Comparative Literature, which is a discipline that is related to, but diverges from, my training in English Literature. It made me more comfortable with the parts of my work that compare anglophone modernism with modern Chinese literature. Further, the vastly different academic environment prompted reflections on my own pedagogical practices and values. I adapted to the needs and temperament of King’s undergraduates, many of whom are wonderfully forthcoming and eloquent with their opinions on politics and social issues, but who sometimes need some nudging to get back on topic. I adjusted to grading papers on Turnitin, and exploited resources such as learningonscreen.ac.uk, which is an on-demand radio and video service with clip-making functions. I was heartened to receive two student nominations for the categories “Rising Star” and “Innovation in Teaching.”

View of Trafalgar Square from The National Gallery and its exhibition on Impressionist art

It was a challenging year. Beyond life at King’s, I learnt to wrap up in the chilly months, fixed a boiler, survived the Tube in summer, and navigated the subtleties of British manners. But I also enjoyed the exceptional produce (Summer fruits! Tomatoes! Black kale and Savoy cabbages! Italian mandarins and pancetta! Sausages!), the beautiful Victoria Park and its lake full of swans and cormorants and ducks, Bethnal Green’s stand-up comedy scene, sightings of London’s elusive urban foxes, the varied architecture, and short trips to Bath, Brighton, Denmark, France, and Switzerland. I grew to love the steady rhythms of city walking, of summer hiking, and I learnt to pace myself in both life and research. I brought these lessons back with me to the tropics. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Visiting Switzerland and the Alps
Visiting Switzerland and hiking in the Alps

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tan Teck Heng
Current PhD candidate in English Literature

 

A story of 2 sisters and 1 commencement

Commencement signifies the start of a new journey.
FASS celebrates the achievements of 2 of our students – Thilanga Dilum Wewalaarachchi and her sister, Sakunika Vinindu Wewalaarachchi.
Thilanga Dilum was our Valedictorian at Ceremony 10, graduating with a PhD in Psychology and her sister, graduating with a Master of Social Sciences.

This July, we are thankful and relieved not only to have been able to complete our graduate studies, but even more so to have had the rare opportunity to face this phase of our lives, together, as sisters. Looking back today, decked in matching robes and having shared eight years at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) together, it is a little surprising to remember that there was once a time when the prospect of graduating together from FASS would have seemed impossible.

For one thing, we had always opted for completely different subject combinations throughout our secondary and tertiary education – while one of us turned to the study of Literature and Theatre Studies, the other chose to pursue Physics and Chemistry. For another, our parents had very much aspired for us to walk in their footsteps and complete degrees in science and engineering. Being first-generation immigrants with no established paths to follow, enrolling at FASS as undergraduate students marked a significant departure from family tradition and expectations. Now, some nine years later, we are both immensely grateful to have had the privilege to chart our own path and been given by our loved ones the opportunity to take this leap of faith.

Of the many things that we take with us from our graduate training at FASS, the growth in our development as young researchers in particular, has been transformative. NUS places a strong emphasis on producing high quality research. As graduate students, this meant that we had several opportunities over the course of our candidature to work with our supervisors on book chapters and academic manuscripts. We have also been able to attend several workshops and academic conferences where we could network with like-minded individuals and share our research with international colleagues.

FASS gives its students opportunities to embark on independent research projects that are both locally relevant and internationally recognised. We were able to pursue our diverse research passions, exploring the interplay between gender and family, and the impact of childhood bilingualism on language acquisition in Singapore. Doing research at FASS has thus afforded us the freedom to answer questions that matter to Singaporeans, and has equipped us with the tools to disseminate these findings with a global audience.

This year, closing the chapter on our student life after about a decade spent in university, we look forward to starting careers as social scientists in our respective fields. Although our time with FASS has come to an end, we will take the lessons learned during this time, both as academics and as young adults, with us as we commence on our next adventure.

Having faith in further study with NUS FASS

Mr Dean Wang hopes to contribute to a greater understanding of local religions
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By Rachel Tan
Straits Times, Postgraduate Supplement, July 7, 2019

Hagiographies of gods, Buddhist scriptures and Taoist rituals have enthralled Mr Dean Wang since young.

Growing up in a family that practises a mix of Buddhism and Taoism, his interest never wavered but deepened over the years, so much so that he is writing a PhD thesis on the worship of Taoist and Buddhist underworld gods in Singapore. These underworld gods include the Black and White Impermanence Ghosts tasked with escorting souls of the deceased to the underworld.

The thesis is part of his PhD in Chinese Studies at the National University of Singapore. Seeing a lack of research related to Chinese religion in South-east Asia, he hopes to contribute to a greater understanding of local religions.

Since receiving the Enhanced FASS Graduate Scholarship in Chinese Religions in 2015, he has been studying under the supervision of renowned Chinese religion scholar Professor Kenneth Dean, and is the first to conduct an in-depth study of the worship of underworld gods in Singapore.

He also had the opportunity to co-organise the “Second Christian- Taoist Colloquium” with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore last year.

The 31-year-old is now in his final year of studies and will be working with Prof Dean on a new documentation project on local Taoist altars. After graduation, he hopes to embark on overseas postdoctoral research if there are fellowships available. However, he also wants to keep an open mind about his future.

“Any role that allows me to share my knowledge and work on topics related to the local religious scene is good,” he says. “I know that my area of specialisation opens up quite a few opportunities besides the academia.”

He believes that postgraduate courses not only train students to be independent learners, but also help them think critically, speak with precision and act responsibly.

“The emphasis on field work and communicating effectively are soft skills that will never become outdated,” he adds.

20 areas of study in Humanities, Social Sciences and Asian Studies

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Research Scholarships for PhD candidates – Centre for Family and Population Research (CFPR)

Two Research Scholarships (RSs) are available each academic year for PhD candidates interested in completing research on family and demographic research from AY2018-AY2020. The end-date of the award will be the end of the fourth year of candidature.

Selected students can be based in any of the 17 Departments/Programmes at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the National University of Singapore. The Scholarships are targeted specifically for applicants who have basic training and skills in the following areas and will continue to focus on these topics in their PhD programmes:

• Quantitative research on family
• Demography
• Children and youth development
• Aging and Health
• Intergenerational relations and transfers

The scholarships are offered by the Centre for Family and Population Research (CFPR).

You can refer to more information about the PhD programme here. Applicants must be university graduates with at least second class honours (upper division) degree or equivalent and at the time of the award of the Research Scholarship, must have applied for and been assured of admission as a PhD candidate to the Faculty. Application for admission to the PhD programme and the Research Scholarship can be done simultaneously. There is no restriction on the nationality of applicants.

All applications (complete with application form, application fee payment and supporting documents) must be received by the stipulated deadlines as indicated here.

For more information about Research Scholarships, please click here. Applications can be submitted online here.

Candidates should indicate that they are applying for the Research Scholarship, by indicating CFPR at the top right hand corner of the hardcopy application form. Candidates applying online should do likewise after printing out the completed application form for submission. Besides indicating on the hardcopy application form / application form printouts, candidates must also send a scanned copy of their application to CFPR at cfpr@nus.edu.sg .